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If there is a single word that characterizes Parshas Bamidbar, it’s פקידה. The root פקדappears in this parsha no less than 57 times, almost as many as in all the other parshios combined. פקד is one of the more difficult words in לשון הקדש due to its numerous meanings. In Parshas Bamidbar, the primary denotation of פקד is counting, hence the English name for the book, Numbers. On the other hand, in Bamidbar itself the word appears with an entirely different definition: to appoint or assign.

 

במ’ א:נ – הַפְקֵד אֶת הַלְוִיִּם עַל מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻתרש”י (שם): ואתה הפקד את הלוים – כתרגומו מני, לשון  מנוי שררה על דבר שהוא ממונה עליו, כמו: ויפקד המלך פקידים (אסתר ב:ג).

 

Num. 1:50 – But you shall appoint the Levites over the Tabernacle of the Testimony; Rashi (ibid): But you shall appoint the Levites as the Targum renders: מניappoint ; it is an expression of appointing to control the thing over which one is appointed, as in (Esther 2:3): “Let the king appoint (וְיַפְקֵד) officers (פְּקִידִים)”. 

 

Another meaning of פקד is remembering, as we see from the Targum in many places:

 

בר’ כא:א – וה’ פָּקַד אֶת שָׂרָה כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמָרת”א (שם): וה’ דכיר ית שרה כמא דאמר; שמ’ ג:טז – פָּקֹד פָּקַדְתִּי אֶתְכֶם וְאֶת הֶעָשׂוּי לָכֶם; ת”א (שם): מדכר דכירנא יתכון וית דאתעביד לכון.

 

…and from the juxtaposition of the words in the text itself:

 

יר’ ג:טז – וְלֹא יִזְכְּרוּ בוֹ וְלֹא יִפקדו. יר’ יד:י – עַתָּה יִזְכֹּר עֲוֹנָם וְיִפְקֹד חַטֹּאתָם; יר’ טו:טו – ה’ זָכְרֵנִי וּפָקְדֵנִי; הושע ח:יג – עַתָּה יִזְכֹּר עֲוֹנָם וְיִפְקֹד חַטֹּאותָם; הושע ט:ט – יִזְכֹּר עֲוֹנָם וְיִפְקֹד חַטֹּאתָם.

 

A fourth definition of פקד is Biblical commandments, as in:

 

תה’ יט:ט – פִּקּוּדֵי ה’ יְשָׁרִים; תה’ קיט:נו – פִקֻּדֶיךָ נָצָרְתִּי.

 

What do countingappointingremembering and commandments have in common? It may be suggested that the underlying meaning of the root פקד is in fact remembering and watching. As follows:

 

1. Counting: In contrast to ספירה , which means simple counting, פקידה  implies counting lovingly, as Rashi comments regarding the verb שאו, another synonym for counting:

 

במ’ א:ב – שְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם; רש”י במ’ א:א –במדבר סיני באחד לחדש. מתוך חיבתן לפניו מונה אותם כל שעה כשיצאו ממצרים מנאן וכשנפלו בעגל מנאן לידע מנין הנותרים כשבא להשרות שכינתו עליהן מנאן.

 

Num. 1:1 – The Lord spoke… in the Sinai Desert… on the first of the month because they were dear to Him, He counted them often. When they left Egypt, He counted them (Ex. 12:37); when [many] fell because [of the sin] of the golden calf, He counted them to know the number of the survivors (Ex. 32:28); when He came to cause His Divine Presence to rest among them, He counted them. 

 

Thus פקד here denotes reckoning for the purpose of remembering and guarding (parallel to שאו, which literally means to uplift), in contrast to simple tabulation.

 

2. Appoint: Appointment to a duty obliges the appointee to remember and guard over the interests of the body being served.

 

3. Remembering: Implying a conscious effort to guard and remember a given matter.

 

4. Torah commandment: Require constant guarding and remembering  in order to execute them correctly and in a timely fashion.

 

Another way to explain the common denominator of the four meanings is an unbreakable link between the מפקיד and the מופקד. In this context, it is interesting to note that a permutation of  the letters of the word פקד yields קפד,

meaning severing:

 

ישע’ לח:יב – קִפַּדְתִּי כָאֹרֵג חַיַּי; רש”י  קפדתי – הכרתי מהר חיי כאורג הממהר לארוג.

 

Is. 38:12 –  I severed, like a weaver, my life. Rashi –  I severed my life quickly, like a weaver who hastens to weave. 

 

Ibn Ezra comments on the verse פקודי ה’ that it is related to the word פקדון, deposit/surety:

 

אב”ע תה’ יט:ט – פקודי – מגזרת  פקדון, והמה הנמצאות בכח הנשמה בכל אדם בהיותו בר מצוה, וה’ הפקידםבלב.

 

Ibn Ezra Ps. 19:9 –  פקודי. Derives from פקדון. Their observance is within the power of each soul who is a bar-Mitzva (observer of the precepts), and Hashem has deposited (entrusted) them within his heart.

 

The commandments are entrusted to each one of us; we must guard over them and they must never be severed from our consciousness. The precepts are our cherished preoccupation, and our mind is never diverted from remembering and guarding them, as we say in the ברכות התורה in the morning לעסוק בדברי תורה – all of our activities are encompassed in עסק התורה. The bar-Mitzva looks for opportunities to create a Kiddush Hashem, a chessed, tzedaka whether he’s in the beis midrash or the basketball court.

 

This leads us to a fifth meaning of פקד – absence/missing – which at first blush appears to be the opposite of guarding and remembering:

 

במד’ לא:מט – וְלֹא נִפְקַד מִמֶּנּוּ אִישׁרש”י  ולא נפקד – ולא נחסר… וכן: כי יפקד מושבך (ש”א כ:יח), יחסר מקום מושבך, איש הרגיל לישב שם. וכן: ויפקד מקום דוד (שם כ:כז), נחסר מקומו ואין איש יושב שם.

 

Num 31:49 – not one man was missing from us. Rashi – there is not one missing… Similarly, “for your seat will be vacant (יִפָּקֵד) ” (I Sam. 20:18)—the place where you sit will be missing, the one who usually sits there. Similarly: וַיִּפָּקֵד מְקוֹם דָּוִד “David’s place was vacant” (ibid. 25); his place was missing, and no one was sitting there. 

 

An unexpected absence leads one’s friends to worry about his well-being, and they cannot rest comfortably until his safety is ascertained. So too the bar-Mitzva, irrespective of his present activity, is always mindful of the next Mitzva he will perform, of the next opportunity he will have to study Torah.

 

The prayer and hope must be to internalize and actualize this vision of the true-Bar-Mitzva, and live King David’s immortal words:

 

תה’ קיט:קכח – עַל כֵּן כָּל פִּקּוּדֵי כֹל יִשָּׁרְתִּי כָּל אֹרַח שֶׁקֶר שָׂנֵאתִי.

 

 Ps. 119:128 – I considered all precepts of all things upright; [and] every false way I hated.

 

 

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg

Founding Director, Editor-In-Chief at Veromemanu
Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg is the Founding Director and Editor-in-chief of Veromemanu and it' website BiblicalHebrewEtymology.com.

Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg

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